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Low Turnout and Fraud Mar Cameroon Elections


Low turnout and reports of fraud marred municipal and legislative elections in Cameroon. Analysts say the strong reforms needed in Cameroon are unlikely to come from these elections, which they predict will continue the 25-year rule of President Paul Biya's party. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Voting began early in Cameroon in a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Perhaps, too calm and peaceful, said some observers, worried about voter turnout.

Bayen Sone is a local journalist who has covered politics in Cameroon for a decade.

"There [have] been very few people voting this morning," said Sone. "I want to believe it has to do with the fact that people went to church, but it is also possible that it is a kind of demonstration of voter apathy."

He says corruption and a weak opposition have left voters disillusioned with the democratic process.

But Sone says some voters are showing up more than once.

"Myself, I have witnessed a group of young men who are voting several times," added Sone. "They were testifying. They did not know that I was listening. They were telling their friends and encouraging their friends to go and try."

He says others have been allowed to vote without showing the required identification. Yet in the weeks leading up to election day, many registered voters did not receive their voting cards. And only 5.5 million of Cameroon's population of 18 million had registered to begin with.

Adamou Ndam Njoya, national president of the Cameroonian Democratic Union, one of the main opposition parties, says at this point, he does not believe a fair outcome is possible.

"It is not very possible because the situation we know in Cameroon is that we have a culture of fraud that is raging," said Njoya.

The ruling party, Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, has said the claims are unfounded.

Roger Belinga, a candidate for the ruling party in a municipality on the outskirts of the capital, says the accusations are merely a way for the opposition to justify their continuing losses.

Cameroon is rich in oil, but its population remains poor. Its government is often listed by Transparency International as among the world's most corrupt c and cited by other international organizations for violations of human rights.

Central Africa analyst Chris Melville, of the British-based consulting company Control Risks, says strong reforms are needed in Cameroon.

"Clearly the ideal situation for the administration is to redouble its efforts to tackle high-level corruption within the administration, which it the major problem," said Melville. "It has made some efforts over the past year and a half to clear out some of the worst excesses, but vested interests have tended to impede the full implementation of the necessary measures."

He also says Cameroon needs to implement constitutional reform, passed in 1996, and to reopen genuine dialog with the opposition. But he says he does not expect to see such reforms soon.

"But these kinds of changes are not going to be swiftly implemented, and the forthcoming elections in no way represent a watershed after which such reforms would be undertaken," added Melville.

President Paul Biya has been in office since 1982. His party currently holds 149 of 180 seats in the legislature and is expected to increase that majority in these elections.

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